Chlorine is a poisonous gas that has a greenish-yellow appearance. Bleach and many other household cleansers contain a stabilized version of chlorine that makes them toxic. Chlorine and bleach both cause problems when ingested but also can affect you if you inhale the fumes or spill them onto your skin. If you believe you or someone else is suffering the effects of chlorine poisoning, contact the National Capital Poison Center for help at (800) 222-1222. Protect yourself and others by learning the signs of poisoning and knowing how to treat them.
The most common effects of bleach ingestion are a burning sensation in the mouth and throat and oral swelling. Swelling in the throat can be severe enough to hinder breathing. Stomach cramps, vomiting and bloody stool also may occur.
Do not induce vomiting, as this may cause further esophageal damage. Instead, drink large quantities of milk to dilute the bleach and protect the stomach and intestines. If only a small quantity of household bleach was consumed, this treatment may be enough. If large amounts of bleach were swallowed, or if industrial bleach was ingested, get medical help immediately. Seek emergency care if breathing becomes labored.
Inhaling bleach fumes is most frequently a problem in industrial settings but also can occur during household use. The most common symptom of chlorine inhalation is shortness of breath and trouble breathing. Coughing, chest pain, nausea and vomiting also may be present. If the concentration of chlorine in the air is high enough, eyes may become red and watery. Nose and throat irritation are common when exposed to bleach fumes, as are headaches and aggravated asthma.
Move to fresh air immediately if you suspect chlorine inhalation poisoning. Get to higher ground if you can because chlorine gas is heavier than air. Seek medical treatment.
Skin and Eye Contact
If bleach or chlorine comes in contact with your eyes, they will sting, burn and turn red. You may temporarily lose vision. There will be no question as to whether contact has occurred. Irritation, burns and blisters may appear with skin contact.
If bleach gets into your eyes, flush them with water for at least 15 minutes, and then see an eye doctor, as permanent cornea damage can result. Rinse your skin thoroughly if contact causes irritation, and see your doctor if you experience chemical burns or blisters at the site of contact.
Exposure to bleach and chlorine can cause symptoms you may not be immediately aware of, and it can be lethal, so is important to seek medical attention after exposure. Whether inhaled or ingested, bleach can lower blood pressure, create fluid in the lungs and increase the acidity level of the blood. It can cause permanent damage to the throat, stomach and intestines when ingested. Nervous system problems such as coma and delirium are also possible after bleach and chlorine poisoning.